by Trung Hieu
With two school-age children, Nguyen Thi Ha feels a severe "burden." "Tuition for my two children is nearly VND5 million (US$240) each month," said the Ha Noi resident, who lives in Nguyen Luong Bang Street. "For my older son, in 12th grade, school fees amount to more than VND3 million ($144) each month. For my second son, in 6th grade, I pay more than VND1 million a month. If the schools continue to increase tuition, my family will be in severe difficulties, because the joint income of my husband and myself can hardly be increased."
These days, while the country faces economic difficulties, many parents struggle to provide for their children, especially just before the school year.
"Money for papercases and uniforms is just part of it," said Nguyen Thi Lan, another mother. "At the first meeting for parents towards the beginning of the school year, the teacher would inform us about monetary contributions. Each time after hearing them, I felt sick. My family earns less than VND10 million ($480) per month, so we struggle to feed four mouths. In the early school year, expenses for our two children to go to school cost so much that we often have to borrow money from our parents," she said.
This year, most of learning appliances' prices soared from 5 to 15 per cent, causing parents to feel extremely anxious. Moreover, they have to contribute to funds marked "voluntary" and "socialisation."
At her first meeting for parents at Hoang Hoa Tham Primary School, Nguyen Thi Dong in Ba Dinh District was shocked to hear she would have to pay more than 10 different fees for her daughter to enter 1st grade. She was told to pay more than VND3 million ($144) immediately: a sum that covered tuition as well as lunch, drinks, air conditioning, uniforms, textbooks, facial tissues, and new furniture for the school, as well as more questionable purposes such as "money to assist parents".
"I don't understand what these fees are for: ‘money to assist parents' and ‘money for caring'. Are they really necessary?"
"We saw that all classrooms have air conditioners which are still very new. Why does the school force parents to pay to buy new conditioners every year? That's nonsense!"
‘Nobody dares complain'
Thu Huong, mother of a pupil in Me Tri, Ha Noi, said parents have to pay "voluntary fees" of VND1 million to the school. "Because these are called ‘voluntary fees', nobody dared to complain," she said.
While most schools keep raising their fees year on year, overcrowded classes are also a problem.
This year, many parents of pre-school age children have tried to put them into public schools. Many who have children who studied in private schools last year also turned to public schools. Because of the financial crisis, public schools – with lower tuition and fees – are perceived as more attractive.
But after successfully putting their kids into public schools, parents feel worried that their classes are overloaded.
"I was shocked when I saw my son's class had nearly 70 pupils. If the class is so crowded, how can the teachers manage pupils? The classroom is not spacious enough for kids to play," said Le Hoa, whose child attends Dich Vong Kindergarten (Cau Giay District).
But the big question for parents was what happened to the hundreds of millions of dong that the schools collected for their "voluntary funds". Even teachers said they didn't know how their schools spent this sum, because no records are kept. Only school administrators know, they said.
Most schools, from primary to high schools, have announced higher fees. However, parents are worried about whether these increases will truly improve the quality of education – particularly when abusive collection is still rampant.
Dr Nguyen Tung Lam, chairman of Ha Noi Psychology – Education Science Association, said: "In fact, the tuition of public schools today is low – only a symbolic charge – while fees for extra learning and other activities are much higher. Therefore, the city's education department must calculate tuition levels with these extra fees in mind. Besides, it is necessary to stop abusive collections to reduce the burden for parents, and tuition and fees should be used properly to serve students."
Ha Noi People's Committee deputy chairwoman Nguyen Bich Ngoc said chairmen of districts and towns of Ha Noi will be held responsible if abusive collections happen in the local schools.
Currently, the Ha Noi Department of Education and Training along with the Department of Finance are making a list of fees other than tuition, including money collection following agreements with parents and voluntary fees. Fees required to directly serve students include meals and semi-boarding service.
"We must base new tuition fees on parents' incomes. If the fees are reasonable, they will certainly be supported by people. But we need to create a means for parents to monitor how their money is spent and ensure it really goes toward improving the quality of teaching and learning," said Dr Lam. — VNS